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Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, March 2009

The Dedication Overture romps through Tchaikovskian evocation, Hansonian grandeur and pre-echoes of the great John Williams cinema scores. Two years before that came his tragic Fantasia which demands a grown-up emotionalism. It is a splendid work in which Giannini turns to the darker realms and makes of them a Hansonian pilgrimage. The Praeludium and Allegro is at first broodingly intense and then whips and snaps in a Waltonian blaze. The final pages are torridly romantic—a tormented emotional climax. The Third Symphony is in four movements. It has the good heart and rejuvenating qualities of Randall Thompson’s Second Symphony. The second movement is plaintive and outdoors in tone. A bubblingly Respighian Allegretto prepares the way for a joyful and largely unclouded finale. By contrast the Variations and Fugue is sombre and heavy with the tense and brooding atmosphere of the Praeludium and Allegro. It is however more obliquely expressed—perhaps picking up on a tinge from the dissonant hegemony. But it is only a tinge—no darker say than any part of Hanson’s Sixth Symphony.

The Houston band give good sharp and soulful performances…The notes for both the Naxos discs [8.559352 Giannini Piano Concerto, Symphony No. 4] are by Walter Simmons who has taken to himself the task of documenting the forgotten romantics of America’s 20th century. He has proved more than equal to the task: as eloquent in information as he is effective in advocacy.

Paul A. Snook
Fanfare, January 2007

The distinguished but much underappreciated American composer Vittorio Giannini (1903–1966) has yet to be properly evaluated and recognized for his signal contribution to American music. This Naxos release of the bulk of his scores for symphonic winds-all of them, except for the Third Symphony, making their commercial recording debut-therefore marks a significant first step in that direction.

When he began to concentrate during his later years on non-vocal efforts, after establishing a then—solid reputation as a composer of operas and art songs, Giannini turned his attention to a field that had quickly proliferated after World War II. Instead of treating this medium as an incidental or occasional outlet, however, he gave it the same high degree of seriousness and professionalism based on tried-and­true traditional methods that had sustained all of his output. All of them pieces written on commission during the last decade of his life, these five works exhibit a synthesis of lyrical afflatus and formal rigor reflective of his intuitive infusion of Romantic materials into neo-Classical structures.

The most famous is the Third Symphony of 1958 that, although it exploits the coloristic potential of the woodwinds, brass, and percussion with striking imaginativeness, could work just as convincingly in full orchestral dress. Not only is it full of lovely themes and provocative rhythmic inventions, but all four movements show an ambitious and integrated developmental logic unusual in this kind of repertoire—a quality shared on a smaller scale by the four shorter works here.

Although the Dedication Overture, written for the North Carolina School of the Arts, has a more simplistic plan suitable for such a basically ceremonial work, the Fantasia, Praeludium and Allegro, and Variations and Fugue have an impressive quotient of concentrated energy and momentousness that makes for a notably elevated level of discourse. His final work for band, the overwhelmingly powerful Variations and Fugue of 1965, for example, with its closing double fugue, reveals Giannini exploring the considerably more astringent harmonic idiom that characterized most of his later music.

This release is part of Naxos’ s worthy series of Wind Band Classics, which included an earlier survey of another master of this genre, Vincent Persichetti, as performed by topnotch ensembles. The University of Houston group under Tom Bennett has, to our knowledge, not made that many recordings to date, but they certainly acquit themselves with exemplary polish and precision here. One might hope for a bit more panache, as heard in the old but definitive Eastman-Rochester recording under Clyde Roller, but Bennett and his crew approach Giannini with requisite command and conviction.

This disc should appeal not only to band aficionados but also to all with an abiding interest in our native music. Now, what about a recording of some of Giannini’s six other outstanding symphonies? It’s long overdue.

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, December 2006

Vittorio Giannini was one of an earlier generation of American composers who came from an Italian background. Many of these composers (such as Piston, Creston, and Mennin) were primarily known as symphonists. Giannini wrote symphonies, too, but concentrated more on vocal music and opera. attempting to bring a Puccini-like palette and melodic felicity to the 20th-century American operatic stage. His music is woefully under-recorded (as was that of his pupil and friend Nicolas Flagello, until quite recently). We can thank Fanfare’s Walter Simmons for producing this Naxos release.

Like Vincent Persichetti, yet another Italian-American, Giannini wrote several works for wind band. All on the above CD came late in his life; the lively Dedication Overture was composed in 1965, the year before his death.

The four-movement Symphony No.3 is the most substantial work on the program and a staple of the American wind band repertoire. The work exhibits the composer’s fastidious craftsmanship, thematic tunefulness, and traditional harmonic idiom, but also brings a symphonic breadth to the working out of its ideas. It tests the mettle of its performers in the area of timbral blend and doubling, as well as in sheer technique. The symphony’s layout is also quite traditional: a first movement alternating dramatic and lyrical moments, a rich adagio, a fleet-footed scherzo, and an energetic march to close.

The other works, though short, remain equally tightly structured. Giannini adopts Baroque forms that he approaches in a personal, almost introverted way. Without straying from his habitual tonal parameters, he even experiments with a 12-note theme in the Variations and Fugue, a weighty work in the form of a Chaconne. I find the smaller pieces easier to admire than to adore, with the exception of the Dedication Overture, which provides a breezy and charming opening to the disc. Elsewhere, craftsmanship and formal rigor seem to inhibit musical inspiration. This may be the fault of the performances. The Houston University players are tight in ensemble (mostly) and their intonation leaves nothing to be desired; yet, under Tom Bennett’s respectful direction, they lack the point and detail which could really bring this music to life. The first few Variations tend to sound more muddy than rich, for example, while the Scherzo movement of the symphony—a genuine showpiece—is laid out cautiously. (This is a case where caution should be thrown, as it were, to the winds.)

The Symphony has been recorded before, notably by Frederick Fennell with the Eastman Rochester Wind Ensemble for Mercury and later with the Dallas Wind Symphony for Reference Recordings. I was unable to locate my old LP of the Eastman performance but, if memory serves, it moved along with a lot more zip. It also had the in-your-face Mercury sound for that extra bit of punch, all of which gave the work a stronger profile. This issue is certainly worthwhile, however, given the rarity and quality of the material. The band is made up of capable musicians, regardless of my reservations expressed above. Recording quality is full and present. Let us hope Naxos and Simmons have more Giannini recording projects planned.

American Record Guide, October 2006

This is my first experience of Vittorio Giannini, whose name appears to mean "Wagner" in Italian; the critic Arthur Cohn described Giannini as "a 20th Century composer using well-sharpened tools of the 19th Century". Were this music not for wind band, I would easily have misdated it by 50 or 60 years. But I must admit it's pretty impressive as band music goes; in fact, these pieces are so imaginatively orchestrated and lush that it's easy to forget the string section isn't actually there somewhere.

In the fugue of the Variations and Fugue, whose subject is the chromatic wedge favored by many late-baroque composers, one wishes there were a string section, as the jumpiness of the melody is a bit awkward for even the best university wind ensembles. The music both allows and demands a very high level of playing, and the University of Houston Wind Ensemble turns in an absolutely world-class performance. I might not look for another record of Giannini's music, but I'd certainly try this band out again!

BandWorld, October 2006

Finally!! For all of us who have longed to hear Vittorio Giannini’s five band works in one collection, the Naxos Wind Band Classics Series comes to the rescue. The University of Houston Wind Ensemble is a fine choice for bringing justice to this music and it shows. All five legendary compositions are here: Symphony No.3, Dedication Overture, Praeludium & Allegro, Variations & Fugue, and Fantasia. The performance is first-rate and this recording deserves a place in every serious band library. Thank you, Naxos!!

David Hurwitz, May 2006

Vittorio Giannini’s Third Symphony has been recorded many times, and rightly so. It’s a band classic: tuneful, beautifully written, fun to play, and just plain good music. The reference version has long been the old Eastman Wind Ensemble on Mercury Living Presence, and this newcomer is quite different. The University of Houston Wind Ensemble plays the music with striking lightness and delicacy. The reeds remain perfectly in tune, and there are moments, as in the main theme of the scherzo, with its stopped horns, where you will hear touches of color as in no other performance. The Mercury recording has more sheer excitement in the outer movements, but I suspect many listeners will welcome this beautifully lyrical alternative.

The three short works are all expertly written, but all reveal a certain sameness that for me suggests that you might not want to listen to them all at once. The Variations and Fugue, on the other hand, is a late masterpiece dating from 1965, the year before the composer’s death. It’s actually more of a passacaglia, seemingly inspired by the finale of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, and its exploration of troubled emotional states makes it far more than an occasional work. Like the symphony, it’s very well played here, and the sonics are also very good. This is another very successful entry in Naxos’ ongoing series devoted to interesting band repertoire. Now let’s hope that they give us some of Giannini’s orchestral works too.

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